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Roses for Saint George's Day

Barcelona, April 23: Join the Sant Jordi Day celebrations


On April 23rd we celebrate “La Diada de Sant Jordi”. If you are in town, you will see that all of a sudden Barcelona is much more busy: there are people all around buying flowers and books. What’s going on? It’s the April 23 Holiday: St. George’s Day! for us, it is sort of a mix between your Valentine’s Day and a book fair.

Today you will discover what it is, how do we celebrate la Diada de Sant Jordi festival, how to take the most out of the day and how to blend in with the locals. Get ready for the fun!


The legend of Saint George (aka Sant Jordi)

Casa Amatller during Sant Jordi Day Festival

George was a Greek soldier born in a Christian family that served the Roman army of the Emperor Diocletian. He was arrested for his faith, and died in martyrdom, beheaded, near Lydda (Israel). It was 23 April, 303. From there his fame spread around Europe, gaining more and more devotees. And in 494 he was made a Saint, after being canonized by Pope Gelasius I. But in the Middle Ages the Golden Legend, a book about the lives of Christian saints made him a legend.

The story goes that once upon a time a dragon threatened to destroy a town, Silene in Lybia, and the locals tried feeding him an animal every day (sheep, goat, cow… whatever was edible) to appease it. But a sad day arrived when there were no animals left and the dragon demanded to be fed a maiden every day. So the villangers started helding a raffle every day to decide which girl would be offered to the dragon. 

Eventually, the name that came out of the raffle was that of the princess, who refused to be spared and walk to face the dragon at its cave. But then a white knight on a white horse arrived, and after fighting the dragon, he pierced it with his spear, killing it. Some say Saint George rejected the treasures offered by the king and donated them to the poor. Others say the village converted to St George’s faith. And fairy tales state that he married the princess and they lived happily ever after.


Why do they celebrate St George day in Barcelona?

So why do we celebrate St. George’s day in Barcelona, if all that happened in the Middle East? As the Golden Legend spread St. George’s story around Europe, his bravery made him popular among crowds, and specially among the militant branch. In our land, Catalan counts such as Borrell and Jaume I spread the word that the Saint had helped them in battle. And the Catalan Almogavers soldiers invoked him during the fights.

Then in 1096 King Pere I of Aragon won the reconquest of Huesca after having asked Saint George for help. After the victory he declared him patron saint of the Chivalry and of the Aragonese nobility. The Catalan aristocracy soon adopted the devotion as well, and with the union of Catalonia and Aragon, Saint George (Sant Jordi, in Catalan), became the Patron Saint of Catalonia. Sant Jordi is so deeply rooted into the Catalan traditions, that instead of Lydda, Catalans believe that Sant Jordi killed the dragon in the town of Montblanc, about 1.5 hours away from Barcelona. 


Red roses for Saint George's day

Catalans also add a final touch to the story, saying that from the blood of the dead dragon was born a red rose, that St George gave to men buy a red rose to their wife, girlfriend or significant other. And since we women love flowers, the tradition has also expanded to any other woman they care for: fathers buy a rose to their daughters, bosses may buy them for their female employees, and even supermarkets give them away to their clients!

If you’re a lady in Catalonia and on April 23rd you don’t get a flower, it’s quite disappointing! Roses are usually paired to a wheat spike, as a symbol of Catalonia (maybe because they are yellow, the roses are red, and the Catalan flag is red on a yellow background?). Also often the rose and the spike come adorned with a Catalan flag ribbon, too.

What even many locals don’t know, though, is that this tradition has also a historical base: in the 1400’s there was already a rose fair that took place inside the Palau de la Generalitat (the Catalan government palace), and that is was attended mostly by young couples. So that’s probably the origin of the modern tradition of buying a rose to our female significant other.


April 23, the World Book Day

Since both Shakespeare and Cervantes (author of the famous Quijote) died on 23 April 1616, St. George’s day is also internationally considered the World Books Day. This is why, in exchange for their rose, ladies are supposed to buy a book to their man. But again, everyone wants to participate in this tradition too!

Taking advantage of the discounts that stores offer that day, everyone usually buys at least one book for themselves, and often moms by books for their kids too. It is a very busy day for writers, who spent all day signing books for their fans. Here are some ideas for books to buy on World Books Day.

Apparently the first book fair celebrations in Catalonia started in the late 1920’s (although not on April 23 yet), and it was the society of Catalan publishers who pushed for April 23 to be declared World Book Day – institutionalized as so by UNESCO in 1995.


Dia de Sant Jordi traditional food

Bakers always take the opportunity to contribute to the party! And in the late 1980’s ago the baker Eduardo Crespo created a special St. George’s bread which is made with cheese and sobrassada (a red Majorcan pork spread made with paprika), recreating the colors of the Catalan flag. This Pa de Sant Jordi made the local news, and soon other bakers adopted it, too, and now you can find it in any Barcelona bakery on April 23.

And if savory is not your thing, you can also buy a thing George cake with crème brûlée on top. I also never miss a visit to my favorite chocolate store on April 23 holiday: they always have some special thing organized, for instance free samples of rose and chocolate shakes, or rose bonbons, or themed éclairs, or a “sexy chocolates package”. And not far, pastry chef Josep Maria Rodriguez serves a Chocolate Rose cake in his La Pastisseria.


Barcelona monuments celebrating open doors day during the Sant Jordi Festival

St. George is present in our city the whole year round. Especially in the Old Town, what you can find sculptures of St. George decorating lots of churches, courtyards and medieval mansions, but also in modernist buildings of the Eixample district where St. George was used to show the owner’s love for Catalonia. You can see some of them in the video below.

But the Diada de Sant Jordi festival is not just a good excuse to pay more attention to the city architecture, but also to enter some city sites for free. These are some of them:

  • Palau de la Generalitat. The headquarters of the Catalan Government isn’t usually open to the public. But as an exception on Sant Jordi Day they celebrate Open Doors Day so people can visit the main rooms as well as the iconic Pati dels Tarongers (a medieval courtyard where orange trees blossom) and the Chapel of Sant Jordi. If you are planning to take advantage of this opportunity, we recommend to arrive early to avoid the long lines.
  • Ajuntament de Barcelona. The Barcelona City Council, also rarely open for visits, also joins the party allowing visitors to access its historical headquarters.
  • Hospital of Sant Pau. This beautiful modernist hospital by the architect Domenech i Muntaner is usually also free of charge on April 23. Arriving early is also strongly recommended.
  • Mies van der Rohe Pavilion. The place for which the German architect designed the famous Barcelona Chair also celebrates its Open Doors Day on El Dia de Sant Jordi festival.
  • Palau Guell. This early Gaudi work also opens for free on 23 April. The tickets must be reserved online in advance.
  • Museum of History of Catalonia (MHCat). Not the one in Plaça del Rei, but the one in Barceloneta, the access is free in the morning.
  • Museum of Archaeology. Sorry, not the one in Plaça del Rei with the underground excavations either, but the Museum in the Hill of Montjuic.
  • Other lesser known buildings: Love going off the beaten path and mingling with locals? Head to the Ateneu Barcelones, the Biblioteca de Catalunya, the Centre Excursionista de Catalunya or the Institut d’Estudis Catalans.


An itinerary to enjoy Sant Jordi Day in Barcelona

If you wish to get the best feel of the local atmosphere on the Dia de Sant Jordi in Barcelona, then I suggest that you start walking down from the top of Rambla Catalunya (from the crossing with Diagonal Avenue), and enjoy strolling past the hundreds of books stalls and rose vendors. Then when you reach Aragon street, turn left to Passeig de Gracia: you mustn’t miss the red roses decoration that dresses up the façade of Casa Batllo every year on April 23!

If you need more, then keep walking down La Rambla, and on Ferran street head left to Plaça Sant Jaume, where the Government of Catalonia and the City Hall stand. I suggest you do that in the morning, as in the afternoon after people are off from work, both streets get super crowded!


St George's day Festival in Spain

Who doesn’t want to have a patron saint that slaughters dragons? Saint George is not only the patron saint of Catalonia, but also of many other lands: England, Portugal, Djibouti, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Russia, Czec Republic, Ukraine, Istanbul, Naples, Venice…

In Spain it’s also the patron saint of the region of Aragon and the cities of Cáceres (Extremadura), Alcoi (Valencia) and Santurce (Basque Country).

So, is St George’s day a public holiday?

In Barcelona, Sant Jordi Day is not a public holiday Everything is open as usual, as long as it falls on a week day.  Neither it is in Santurce. However, in Aragon, Caceres and Alcoi it is a bank holiday. Please note that when St. George’s Day falls on Sunday, each town and region might decide to push the bank holiday to the next day. Check the local calendars if you are visiting those areas around the April 23 holiday.

How are you planning to join the Diada de Sant Jordi celebrations?


Author Marta Laurent Veciana


Marta is the founder of ForeverBarcelona. She is a passionate tour guide that loves Barcelona and loves writing too. She is the main author of our Blog, and is committed to sharing her knowledge about Barcelona and her best tips with our readers.

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